Exile and nomadicism
According to Charles Bernstein, it is necessary to forge “a community of […] poets that allows for active intense exchange … not based on location or prior friendship or like-mindedness, but on the qualities and quiddities of the work as it unfolds in time and space, on earth and in the heavens of our ‘image nations.’”
But, like genres or overcommitted notions of race, ethnicity and gender, the once-upon-a-time concept of community, though significant for defining an aesthetics or a group of texts, is also hugely problematic, confining and reductive. Not only must we keep in mind (and I quote the esteemed Johanna Drucker) “the cycle of fashion trends of poetics in which one style of school is [continuously] replaced by another in a bid for top billing,” but the work risks getting trapped, held captive in some cushy framing. Though at best it provides easy access into the aesthetics of said community, it’s also hugely reductive for potential readers who then receive that work through a specific and oft restrictive lens.
But before I go any further, it’s important to foreground that these “communities” we’re talking about are no longer geo-located but orbital: dot.COMmunities, technomediatic and web based. And as i text my youtubed tumbl twitters while facebooking my foursquare hopstoppin’ i-clouded techniverse, my community is growing 140 characters per nanosecond, panoptically re-creating its own borders, orders, limits, laws, flaws / forging its own auto-correcting tribalism. Low-lying and high-def,
my “community” lives
on iPods, Pads smart phones.
All webbed up and buttoned down,
intratextual and hyperlinked
It IS an intra-galactic lexical plexus
of screening media
a misc-en-sceney panacea
cannibalizing itself through its own lateral feed nodes,
all blogoscopic and sucking on its own
living on the edge —
of micro-civilizations, micro-communities from which we adapt our ever-shifting conceptual systems; through intra-lingual migrations, aggregations, and translations, constructing an ever widening community.
As we know from Derrida, the mark of circumcision is both a cutting off and into.
So as much as we may “belong” to any given social or aesthetic community, there is a non-belonging, a simultaneous exclusion and inclusion.
Given this, perhaps it’s more productive to focus on the breaks in the homogenous discourse of specific communities and the cracks in its authority —
How do you even belong to a community?
This is particularly true for me as an expat Canadian, Russian Jewish poet, academic, writer, and performer inscribed with a very lived-in sense of nomadicism and exile with a deep-rooted fear of commitment. I was born into the second wave of Tisch poets on the edge of L=A=N=G=U=G=E via the Kootenay school, on the edge of Canadian and European Sound Poetry, the Four Horseman, those days reverberating with Owen Sound, ReSounding, the downtown-Metis shamanistic chanting and (across the border) Tjanting in the wake of the Black Mountain. And each aesthetic community defined itself with a fervent Olsonic sense of polis. Framing itself hard between lyric and language, the oral and the written, between performance and anti-performance, between the communities of small press and big voices, I took to the margins. And now even here in New York, on the margins of Flarf, of Conceptualism, on the margins of being a femme, Jew, Canadian writer, performer, pop parody poeoke videopoem-maker, a “use-your-hands-too-much” Kabbalistic alchemist, Pattern Variant OuLiPian collaborator, you have to ask — where do the aesthetics begin and the friendships end? How do you read a text and not traverse it so deeply that it becomes a part of your own process? How do you continuously (contiguously) belong without belonging in an ever-widening circle of language, production, filiation, power and desire? What I am describing here is not only a “double bind,” but straddles a multitude of problems, praxes, questions and constructs.
And in an age of aggregate authorship, socially-based, procedurally-executed work — work that mines, sorts and restates, reorders, repurposes, work that is massively participatory and has got collectivity in at its heart — one cannot separate one’s community from the shared language that expresses it.
In “an-ever widening scope of where letters reside,”
i belaunge (without belonging)
to an artifice (an edifice) which is informal, polystructural ana-historical ideological and collaborative.
To not a community but A COMMA UNITY
per coal et commata, she tears
about on the hillside of
language; endlessly sorting &
constructed and reconstructed in the course of its stutters, stop gaps, hesitations, intrusions.
For, according to French feminist theorist Hélène Cixous, commas are tiny rods, mistresses of language that create potholes in the subject. They act as a separator. A troublemaker. Creating havoc in public spaces. They belong without belonging.
So I say bring on not the community but the comma unity — a community that thrives on rhetorical strategies of hybridity, deformation, masking, and inversion, and produces an absent presence inscribed on an intra-cultural trajectory of difference —
an ever-shifting, indefinable community of linguistic innovation and transgression, contamination, infiltration, hybridization
an intra-textual and redoubled community.
How is it possible to claim membership to or lineage
when according to Derrida, “the lineage of a progenitor […] no longer resembles it.” With continuous proliferation, mutation and contamination, “one can no longer count its offspring or interests, its supplements or surplus values.”
So, how do you BELONG to a community, when the community itself is not an autonomous locatable topos but a spectrogenic process, indebted to all the precursors
Proprietous riotous radical grafts traces of all who are or have ever been
embedded in that “community.”
And how do you FUNCTION in a community when you are always between multiple cultures and traditions, re-codings,
variously described as ‘migrant,’ ‘diasporic,’ and ‘transnational,’ located between languages, praxes, aesthetics, shifting modes of discourse drawn from discrete polysystems.
When you are “on the edge” of community.
in NOT a community or even a comma,unity
but a comme unity. If you think about it, in French (or in Dante’s Italian),
“co(m)me” (meaning “as,” “as if”)
So, linguistically, the very moniker “community” embodies within itself the pretense, THE FANTASTY of unity, of oneness.
Where is the unity when everything is fluid, shifting, (in)finitely divisible, translatable, mutatable? Where is subjectivity when it slips between difference, appliance, appearance, and (like text itself) does not possess some portable and universal context, but functions with transgression, invasion, contradiction, ambiguity as di-/efferentially embedded figural traces orbiting through the anxiety of power relations?
So bring on the “comma, unity” the “comme unity” which thrives on rhetorical strategies of contamination, deformation, hybridity and desire
Thrives like a Bernsteinian “constellation” with the links always open
spiraling outward centrifugally
a community always in excess of itself.
Take Charles — a builder of community. A “ripple agitator,” “cultural deranger,” constantly challenging himself in term of his Radical Leftist Jewy Langpo aesthetics, politics, shifting ideologies, praxes. “Occypying” communities within communities that exceed spatiality, temporality, locatability. An ever widening network that includes the Marxes and the Steins. Guthrie lovin’, Jacket2 wearin’, Shadowtime Conceptualists, Plastique constructivists and Blind Witnesses, distinguished academics, scholars, poets, painters and essayists, communities of com-/opposers and librettists, oh whiskey swillin’ jewy girly man theorist rock prof, I have never known anyone to belong to so very many communities.
Same with Jerome Rothenberg. On the edge. A renegade ethnopoetic technician of the sacred gone rogue. Part of sixty decades of communities, from chanting beat poet, to Polish, Russian Talmudic Kabbalist; mystic, thief, madman, burning babe of the millennium; a dada Navajo-lovin’ pumpkin shakin’ polemicist, embodying the braided armpits and camphor smells of the wedded collectives of the sound poet, critic, anthropologist, editor, anthologist, performer, teacher, translator. Unbridled, he’s so on the edge.
Or take Steve McCaffery. To what community does he belong? As a Carnival creatin’ Horseman, expat Brit Canadian, now SUNY Buffalo Poetics Chair holder, Sound ’n’ Concrete poet, analyst, cultural and political theorist; cheating words and paying debt to sediment. Always knowing “knowledge” never known. I have watched him over three decades of bordering communities. Kootenay, L=A=N=G=A=U=G=E, Toronto, Buffalo, Tenerife, Manchester, all performative-antiperformative, protosemantic? and parodic waving his anti-consumerist Muffins and shifting Waifs, his Panoptical Distortions all over the globe. On the edge of many communities.
Each of these outliers engages with their own linguistic hybridity by explicitly thematizing negotiation between differing linguistic praxes, exploring new identities by constructing dialogic spaces that at once foreground, perform, and problematize the act of being both a part of and apart from and insofar never get subsumed in any one community.
Engaging instead in a poetics of resistance — a resistance to the confines of a particular aesthetic (or the “elite practitioners” of said aesthetic) — and celebrating strategic, linguistic or communicative slippage.
Inevitably, talk of “community” is one of labels, restrictions and their inherent parameters. Take for instance Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews.” His celebratory attempt to define a community becomes a sick and twisted reductive grouping, glossing over all difference without reverence for the intricacies of Jewish thought and history, reminiscent of perhaps a nineteenth-century universalist model, without questioning the ideology behind such a definition. And I only raise this here as once categorized, any text risks being compartmentalized, muffled, bound and ball-gagged.
So say yes to not the community but the comma unity / and you too can navigate between multiple language and semiotic systems and their associated contexts, in the very act of poesis, question the inherent border of any one community, embrace all dislocated, marginalized, or insurgent subjects, negotiate in the antagonisms,
agonisms of aesthetics, of difference.
But, the question remains — how then can a community be a community when it is marked by deterritorialization, dissemination, displacement, rupture?
Perhaps it is to embrace a spectral dissymmetry where each law is a series of borders, orders, mirrors, screens. Comprising not a pure community, but a puréed, ever-widening community. Not marked by nationalities or gender or locus but by multiple dislocations, translations, serrations and embodying all the lingual confusions, frustrations and ecstasies as they merge into cultural palimpsests, creating intricate relational models between “possible” communities.
And live in theinterstices, the aporias in a superfluity of loci, foci, folds
flying through multiplicitous systems of social and cultural signification.
like a campy colossus scrolling its
beaux faux info-flecked flurry
of siphoned hyphenates
foppishly flaunting its pixie fricassee flambée
((of flustered clusters))
because community can never resort to what Homi Bhabha calls “a rememoration,” a living memorial of what has been excluded, excised, evicted — the unheimlich space for the negotiation of identity and history.
I want a community that will carve out a new dwelling place, a hybridized syncretic space between cultures and idioms, that doesn’t close down but builds a dialogue to create an equal interchange between communities.
And i ask —
Who ARE the people in my neighborhood?
Who IS under my umbrella — when that umbrella
is always being blown away
leaving its roots dangling in the thunderstorm.
Between the conflicting layers of affiliation and identity.
Take Maria Damon, who also is a prime example of someone who is ambiguously located between cultures. As a flarfy poet theorist critic feminist écriture meshword avant gardist, cataloguer, etymological collaborator, risk takin & Iggy lovin’ weaving her jewy bloggalicious bagel shop jazz in intertextilic files of textual exile. In every word, she embodies that sense of interlinguistic expatriation,actively participating in the destination of culture. Between communities.
All to say, we are all always already “out of place” with respect to whatever tradition. Because traditions are always changing, the borders are fluid, in flux, fleeting. Performance is celebrated. Performance is outlawed. Too ego-centered, not theatrical enough, overshadowing the writing. The language is too personal, has too many repetitions, doesn’t have enough emotion. Is too complex. Has no subject. Is dirty, disjunctive full of foreign elements. Whatever it is, it is always located “between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages.”
And i say bring it on. Give me
a community that celebrates its otherness.
And all that is dirty and disheveled. Impure.
All that has been excised;
Silenced. Left out. All that has been deemed unworthy,
unartful or politically problematic.
Give me a community that
offers the latest in decapitalized ultra-portable pimped up conceptualism
And celebrates all that is bloggy and viscous
in the badonkadonk junk trunk
celebrates a mother-plucker
of spatially contagious parsed pulse plais plays,
laced with socio-political-cultural shards, fractures of history
HIGHLIGHTING how nothing is pure,
with palimpsestic resonance —
riffs of re-presentation, illumination
And is forever,
Drawing on the Kindness of Strangers
1. Charles Bernstein, “Community and the Individual Talent,” WITZ: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry vol. 3, no. 1 (Winter 1994).
2. Johanna Drucker, “Beyond Conceptualisms: Poetics after Critique and the End of the Individual Voice,” The Poetry Project Newsletter 231 (April/May 2012).
3. Lady Gaga, “On the Edge of Glory,” Born This Way, 2011, compact disc.
4. And produces a conflictual economy, a graphematic synchrony that simultaneously inhabits multiple and conflicting positions. Foregrounds the hybridity of culture: a forbidden transparency and impossible univocity, which defies any notion of “belonging to.” Or taking this to its extreme — with an unspeaking, a not naming, dis-identifying could open up possibilities for other narrative gestures of cultural signification. Producing a contingent and liminal space, a multi-accentual politics of desire, which confounds the ordering of a cultural hegemony and provides a narrative strategy for a hybrid site of cultural negotiation.
5. According to Hélène Cixous, commas are “those tiny rods, mistresses of his innumerable amphibologies and anacoluthons, hence of such ambiguities as poke holes in the subject, in the literal meaning of things.” Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint (New York: Columbia University Press), 34.
6. Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Working of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), 152.
Which brings to mind the recent groundbreaking anthology Radical Poetics: Secular Jewish Thought, ed. Stephen Paul Miller and Daniel Morris (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2009), which did not attempt to define secular Jewish writing but erupted as the locus of multiple dislocations, translations, border crossings of aesthetic praxes. But even so, how is it even possible to locate oneself within a Jewish community of writers if, according to Jabés, “being Jewish means exiling yourself in the word.” Where the word: law looks, overlooks or locks in an interlocutive locus. And if the law of the book is the law of the infinite (which incidentally for both Cixous and Derrida is the time of borders crossed), the beyond of the book is still the book. So, when there is nothing outside of text [ne pas de hors text], no core text, a vortext of contingency and incommensurabilites, translated, the community veils itself in the community, is always in recognition of the community, in ambush for the community and belongs to (belangues) to a textual practice of passages, signatures, indices.
I belong to a mode of writing which not only draws upon my ever-shifting geo-linguist-socio-economic cultural idiom but one which mirrors a Kabbalistic hermeneutics, a heteroglossic / palimpsestic enunciative process where potential meanings are never fixed, never exhausted, where language acts as a productive economy of intersequential subterfuge.
Belong to a secret which secrets, a s’ecrit: a diasporic discourse inscribed in iteration and renegotiation, becoming and effacement. Where my home [logis] in logos, in language. In a langue, a tongue (that swallows itself and eats itself, is silent, tongue-tied, dies or vomits) but cannot assimilate.
Belong without belonging to a comma unity, a comme unity comprised not of an autonomous locatable topoi but a spectrogenic process, a “ligneous-non ligneous” space of “invisible visibility” which remains inappropriate, propre impropre proprietous riotous, in(excess)able, fallible and open.
7. Derrida, Spectres of Marx, 138.
8. Jean-Francois Lyotard, Heidegger and “The Jews” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990).
9. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), 332–3.
A conference companion
Katie L. Price Jonathan Fedors